Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by cognitive decline and memory loss.
It is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than 6 million Americans and an estimated 30 million people worldwide.
Progression of Alzheimer’s Symptoms
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease typically first appear when a person is around 65 years old but can sometimes begin much sooner or later.
Onset is gradual and subtle, starting with a pre-clinical stage that can last for several years. There is mild memory loss in this stage, but no functional impairment yet and minor observable changes.
As the disease progresses into the early stage, loss of concentration and memory, disorientation in time and place, mood changes, personality changes, and depression start to cause problems in their daily life.
Progressing into the moderate stage, trouble recognizing family and friends, loss of impulse control, and difficulty reading, writing, and speaking.
In the severe or late stage of Alzheimer’s disease, functional and cognitive impairments have reached the point where they cannot recognize their family at all. They may lose their ability to move and speak and become bedridden. Difficulties in swallowing, urination and other significant complications eventually lead to the patient’s death.
On average, Alzheimer’s patients live for 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, sometimes up to 20 years, depending on how fast the disease progresses.
A Look Inside The Brain
From 1901 to 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer observed and documented the progressive mental decline of a female patient suffering from a then-unknown disease. After she died, he performed an autopsy to understand what happened.
He saw extensive atrophy (shrinkage) in the cortex – the brain’s outer layer involved in memory, language, judgment, and thought. When he examined thin slices of brain tissue under a microscope, he noted two types of abnormal deposits among the nerve cells: plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, the two main neuropathological features of the condition we now call “Alzheimer’s Disease.”
Over a hundred years later, there is still a lot unknown about Alzheimer’s disease and its cause. One model, the amyloid cascade hypothesis, suggests that the accumulation of insoluble beta-amyloid peptides leads to the formation of plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, followed by nerve cell death and the manifestation of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Modifiable Risk Factors
The development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is closely linked to aging and genetics, neither of which we can do much about.
However, there are several modifiable risk factors that we can control to reduce our risk of developing the disease. These include:
- Improving your diet to reduce obesity, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
- Stop smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Staying mentally active and socially engaged
- Treating depression and anxiety
It is important to note that these healthy lifestyle changes cannot eliminate your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Still, they can help improve your overall quality of life and lower your chances of suffering a negative outcome.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, see a doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment options.